Coming into the 2013-14 season, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said he wanted balanced scoring, and the Buckeyes gave him plenty of it in their season-opener against Morgan State.
The No. 11 Buckeyes emerged impressively from an offseason of retooling their shooting strokes. Ohio State featured five double-digit scorers, two of which came off the bench, in an 89-50 win against visiting Morgan State (0-1). The Bears found an offensive groove in the second half, but it came during an admittedly poor stretch for the Buckeyes (1-0), and the visitors were far from a threat. The second-half defense was one of few Ohio State blemishes exposed during an otherwise comfortable victory.
Buckeyes’ junior guard Shannon Scott used a hot start and noticeably improved shooting to score 16 points in helping Ohio State cruise to the win at Value City Arena. Senior forward Lenzelle Smith Jr., scored a game-high 18 points for while junior forward LaQuinton Ross posted the first double-double of his career (14 points, 11 rebounds).
With the scoring onus divided evenly amongst members of Matta’s squad, nine of 10 players that entered the game for Ohio State scored at least two points. Ohio State junior forward Sam Thompson and freshman forward Marc Loving also scored in double digits, posting 14 and 10 points, respectively.
That variety of scoring distribution, Matta said, is something this team must continue to produce.
“I think that’s some of the balance this team’s going to have to have,” Matta said following the game. “That’s something that’s going to be big for this team.”
Balance wasn’t quite the name of the game at the outset of the game as Scott nailed three 3-pointers in the span of 1:07 to put the Buckeyes up early, 11-2. He would eventually finish 4 of 7 from beyond the arc while Ohio State finished 11 of 25 from distance.
“He really got off to a great start today, Improving his shooting was a point of emphasis for him," Matta said. "We talked about it all offseason. I told him he has to be able to knock down those shots.”
After collecting his fair share of points, Scott went about distributing to his teammates, and eventually finished with a game-high seven assists.
With senior guard Aaron Craft flanking Scott in the Ohio State backcourt, those two players combined for 13 of the team’s 18 assists in the contest. As Craft and Scott pulled the strings of the offense, Ohio State finished the first half with a 20-5 run that sent the Buckeyes to the break with a 49-23 lead.
“I mean, that’s just our brand of basketball,” Smith Jr. said of the 20-5 run. “That’s just five guys being connected out there.”
Scott said he agreed, adding, “It really makes it hard for our team to be guarded. Teams really can’t focus on one player.”
After the break, Ohio State used the balanced scoring to keep a stranglehold on the game, but Morgan State, which was led by guard Justin Black’s 13 points, made a noticeable dent on the offense end. The Bears found success with slashing drives to the basket, scoring 27 total points in the second half and contributing to Buckeyes junior center Amir Williams fouling out. Backup center and fellow junior Trey McDonald also committed three fouls in the game as Morgan State began to penetrate Ohio State’s defense with greater ease.
The problem during the second half, Scott said, was that Ohio State was focusing more on the clock than it was on playing fundamental defense.
“We started playing the clock and got a little lazy out there, and it caused turnovers for us,” he said. “We’ve really got to stay focused through the whole 40 minutes and cut down the turnovers.”
Matta said it was a matter of his players committing to their defensive assignments.
“We did give up some dribble penetration (in the second half),” he said. “Especially on some long close outs, and we didn’t get come around and rotate like we needed to.”
As is often the case with some of Ohio State’s early-season, non-conference games, though, the Buckeyes took to the air to close out the win.
Thompson, the first player off the bench for Matta in the game, had several alley-op finishes in the closing moments to send fans home happy. Thompson’s contribution to the score sheet was more meaningful earlier in the game as he knocked down jump shots from both medium and long range.
Prior to the game, Thompson and Matta met to discuss using him as the sixth man, a role that Matta places great importance on. While Thompson is playing the best basketball of his life, Matta said, the Chicago-native was agreeable to the idea of being used as a substitute.
“He said, ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever I have to,’” Matta said of Thompson’s reaction to being used as a substitute. “That says a lot about Sam. Sam really wants to win and he is bringing great energy off the bench. He knows he is going to play his minutes and do what he is capable of doing for the team. Sam did a great job tonight and understands what he needs to do.”
Thompson finished the afternoon on 6-of-9 shooting and also connected on two of his three 3-point attempts.
With the win, Ohio State improved to 10-0 in opening games during the Matta era. The Buckeyes also improved to 17-0 all-time against opponents from the MEAC, and 2-0 in the Morgan State series.